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Question about orchestral balance/volume settings
Last post Sat, Aug 08 2020 by jasensmith, 10 replies.
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Posted on Thu, Jul 16 2020 13:54
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 189

As I understand it, getting a good approximation of the orchestral "sound" in the digital world has to do with setting the volume (gain) of each of the instances in relation to one another so that their respective dynamic ranges play realistically against one another.  For example, a single woodwind should be set at a volume so that, even at it's maximum dynamic level, it never exceeds that of, say, a Trumpet or French Horn.  So, the "Natural Volume" feature - again, as I understand it - is there to use as a starting point from which to make adjustments as needed towards the desired balance between all instruments.  As far as I know, there's no "scientific" way to do this and it just has to be ultimately a judgement of the ear, taste, and the desired soundscape.

So, my question:

Once the balance in volume between the instruments has been established to the desired amount of realism (so that none of their dynamics is out of place with the other), is it good practice to then set the volumes as a whole to a point where, when the entire orchestra is playing FF tutti, the meter is something like -6db below 0?  My worry is that gain reductions in dB are not on an even scale (unless I'm wrong??), and so reducing, say, a woodwind's volume too much to avoid a tutti FF section clipping will result in the woodwind being waaaay too quiet, but if I raise the woodwind, the balance will be out of whack.

Of course, I'll be fiddling with all this and experimenting, but I'd be over the moon if any of you vastly more experienced mixological wizards out there would be willing to impart some of your wisdom :-)

Thanks,

- Sam  

Posted on Fri, Jul 24 2020 21:53
by stephen limbaugh
Joined on Tue, Feb 23 2016, Los Angeles, Posts 260

Pardon the disorganized thoughts here:

I'll tell ya what I did for my template and Synchron Stage MIRpro settings...

I imported a couple of modern classical recordings (not film scores, because they "cheat" the levels on things like the harps, celeste, string shorts, etc) and then did mockups of those excerpts.  I think one was Nimrod by Elgar, Beethoven 3rd opening, some tutti chords from Mahler 5, stuff like that...

I made sure that the velocity cross fade of the instruments were at their proper levels, not all jacked to 127 just so I could hear them.  But where the manuals said the layers were marked.

THEN I went to the faders in VEPro and matched them to the recordings.

One thing that will help is making sure you find the honky resonances in the MIRpro EQ at the bottom of the instrument profile on the right hand side.

Then there is balancing the instruments in MIR with the Synchronized or Synchron libraries.  I used those as a guide as well for balance, usually starting with the "Classic Surr to Stereo" preset and then matching the VI libraries to that (so long as it was also close to those modern orchestra recordings).

I can't remember where the FF chords landed on my stereo bus, but I'm sure it was in that -6 range.  I almost always end up automating the stereo bus fader on super soft stuff (like that Elgar variation).  And in my experience, the lower levels are even with the loud among the instruments.

Then there is the aspect of color and tone intensity.

Watching rehearsals of great conductors, they stop the string section all the time when they lose the intensity on soft passages.  For this, I lower the expression, but even if marked pp, I'm using a mf velocity crossfade level.  That shouldn't effect the levels except if you want to bring out a group, like the horns.  Instead of automating each expression fader (4, 6, 8?!) I just grab the horn bus and ride it a little bit to help with swells or whatever.

So yeah... faders are always in flux, and those natural volume levels are a great place to start, but I think they can be tailored to your personal programming tendencies.

OH! important thing... also be prepared for some CC24 filter automation.  Sometimes you need loud trumpet or horn, but not so brassy.. a nice "ohhh" tone. Use the filter.  Also, with high strings/woodwinds all up in the stratosphere, use the filter a bit on the strings and suddenly you'll get a better balance of woodwinds (not to mention not letting your strings get all icy).  So maybe as you are checking the mf balance of the orchestra in the upper range, before adjusting the fader, try the filter.

Adhere to orchestration principles.  If you have 3 flutes on middle C, playing as loud as they can, and a cello melody in tenor clef with some french horn chords gluing things together, those flutes should not stick out.  If they do, your flutes are probably too loud across the board.

2019 MacBook Pro, 8 core i9, 32gb RAM. Heavy Digital Audio PC slave, 6 core Xeon E5-1650, 128gb RAM. Logic 10.4.8. Mojave & Windows 10.
Posted on Sun, Jul 26 2020 07:06
by jasensmith
Joined on Tue, Jan 15 2008, Arizona, Posts 1577
Just to add to what Stephen said, determine the point of view before deciding on all the above. Where is the listener sitting in relation to the orchestra. Is he sitting way in the back on the balcony? Is he sitting in the middle of 7th row from the stage is he sitting in the 1st row behind the conductor? Is he sitting on the conductor's shoulders? Maybe in the pianist's lap? What's the point of view.

Also what seating arrangement for the orchestra. I guess the purists out there would prefer the standard American seating arrangement but I prefer a modified German arrangement where the 2nd Violins sit opposite the 1st. The seating arrangement will affect the sonic aesthetics of the piece.

Stephen talked about cheating and I cheat a lot because I'm not that concerned with a pure orchestral approach to balance and levels and all that. For example, my solo instruments tend to sound louder than their corresponding ensembles because I'm trying to accentuate a theme or motif and that's what I hear in professional recordings of professional orchestras.

Also, I use some tricks I've learned in the Pop world like exaggerating the panning a bit and then using a stereo imager for sound separation. When you do that you don't have to automate volumes so much because every instrument(s) have a definite space in the stereo spectrum that reduces crowding. And compression is your friend not your enemy. That is if you use it correctly. EQ your instruments (and reverbs). As a general rule, instruments that play in the higher registers, like flutes, should have their deep bass frequencies EQed out (hi pass) to reduce muddiness in the final mix.

As Stephen suggested using the filter is a good idea but I like using a multiband because I can automate the attack and release functions. Also if you have a de-esser use it to reduce the sibilance you hear in high pitched screeching Violins, Piatis, symbols etc.

Err. Ah... what was your question again, I'm just geeking out here.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it."
- W.C. Fields
Posted on Sun, Jul 26 2020 18:38
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 139

Sam, in answer to your question about changing overall volume, it does not change the objectively-measurable relative balance you've already set up. The non-linearity of decibel-scale faders is perfectly ([ed.] ... erm, well that's in theory; in practice it's "more or less") innocent in this regard, although it's helpful and generally good practice to keep the faders in the zone where you get best dB per inch resolution.

That said, there is indeed something to watch out for when changing overall level radically, because a mix balance may appear to change subjectively as a consequence. It all depends on the characteristic pitch and timbre of the different instruments in the mix, and the fact that the pitch-response of our ears is different at different levels of loudness. Therein lies a part of the mix engineer's craft and art. And since I'm not a pro mix engineer I'll just say use your ears and your common sense, and try out your mix on several different kinds of speakers and headphones, and at different listening volumes.

BTW there are lots of tutorial videos on YouTube about setting up "Gain-Staging" prior to actually doing a mix. You may find some relevant and very useful practical tips there.

Posted on Wed, Jul 29 2020 05:24
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 139

Oops sorry, dammit, I meant Gain-Staging, not Gain Normalisation. 

Posted on Fri, Aug 07 2020 19:05
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 189

Stephen:

Originally Posted by: stephen limbaugh Go to Quoted Post

Pardon the disorganized thoughts here:

I hereby pardon you 

Originally Posted by: stephen limbaugh Go to Quoted Post

I imported a couple of modern classical recordings (not film scores, because they "cheat" the levels on things like the harps, celeste, string shorts, etc) and then did mockups of those excerpts.  I think one was Nimrod by Elgar, Beethoven 3rd opening, some tutti chords from Mahler 5, stuff like that...

This is fantastic advice.  Thank you!  I will do this.

Originally Posted by: stephen limbaugh Go to Quoted Post

I can't remember where the FF chords landed on my stereo bus, but I'm sure it was in that -6 range.  I almost always end up automating the stereo bus fader on super soft stuff (like that Elgar variation).  And in my experience, the lower levels are even with the loud among the instruments.

I'm a little unclear as to what you mean.  Do you mean to say that - in the recordings you referenced - it sounded like that super soft passages were brought up on the stereo bus and so you did the same?  If so, this makes a lot of sense, since what I'm essentially worried about is that in order to preserve a serious dynamic range yet avoid clipping, the distance in volume between the loud and the soft parts will be so great that the soft parts are just too quiet.  Buuut...if none of the loud stuff is playing, raising the stereo bus (albeit subtly so as not to betray the intended dynamic range too much) circumvents that problem.  Is that a correct understanding?

Originally Posted by: stephen limbaugh Go to Quoted Post

Adhere to orchestration principles.  If you have 3 flutes on middle C, playing as loud as they can, and a cello melody in tenor clef with some french horn chords gluing things together, those flutes should not stick out.  If they do, your flutes are probably too loud across the board.

How accurate, would you say, are Rimsky-Korsakov's approximations?  A childhood of bad EDM has left my ears having a ways to go towards intuitive understanding of orchestral balance, so any training wheels help... 

And, of course, thanks so much for all your help!  Your advice is gold.

- Sam

Posted on Fri, Aug 07 2020 19:11
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 189

JASEN:

Originally Posted by: jasensmith Go to Quoted Post

Stephen talked about cheating and I cheat a lot because I'm not that concerned with a pure orchestral approach to balance and levels and all that. For example, my solo instruments tend to sound louder than their corresponding ensembles because I'm trying to accentuate a theme or motif and that's what I hear in professional recordings of professional orchestras.

Same here (in regards to "cheating").  There's so much potential the digital realm has to offer.  However, I'm a "learn the rules to break them" kind of person...

Originally Posted by: jasensmith Go to Quoted Post

Also, I use some tricks I've learned in the Pop world like exaggerating the panning a bit and then using a stereo imager for sound separation. 

Just to clarify:

Exaggerate the panning as in pan in MIR (or Syn Player, or whatever) wider than you normally would?  And then use a stereo imaging plugin on the stereo or master bus to...widen the image even more?  Wouldn't that put things monstrously out of phase?

Originally Posted by: jasensmith Go to Quoted Post

Also if you have a de-esser use it to reduce the sibilance you hear in high pitched screeching Violins, Piatis, symbols etc.

Speaking of which!  Do you know a good plugin/technique to surgically target the frequencies of the key click sounds on the VI woodwind libraries?

Thanks so much for taking the time to help me!

- Sam

Posted on Fri, Aug 07 2020 19:17
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 189

Macker:

Originally Posted by: Macker Go to Quoted Post

Sam, in answer to your question about changing overall volume, it does not change the objectively-measurable relative balance you've already set up. The non-linearity of decibel-scale faders is perfectly innocent in this regard, although it's helpful and generally good practice to keep the faders in the zone where you get best dB per inch resolution.

Wow, you just saved me a lot of time worrying about a non-issue!  For some reason, I was stuck on this idea that changing an entire section's volume meant shift-clicking every fader.  I seem to have forgotten that buses/folders exist.    Thank you for clearing that up!

- Sam

Posted on Sat, Aug 08 2020 06:14
by Dietz
Joined on Tue, Aug 06 2002, Vienna / Europe, Posts 7450

In MIR Pro, VE/VE Pro, and in most other professional hosts and DAWs there are always way to link or group volume faders themselves, either temporarily or permanently, so you don't necessarily need to use Group Tracks (a.k.a. "Buses"). They are useful when you want to process this sub-mix as one single entity, but they bring in their own idiosyncrasies and potential problems.

In MIR Pro it might be sufficient to make use of the "Selection Group" feature, which mirrors a parameter change o all selected Icons on a stage when holding "Alt" while doing so, or by activating the Preference to always treat selected Icons as a (parameter-linked) group.

HTH,

/Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library
Posted on Sat, Aug 08 2020 09:59
by jasensmith
Joined on Tue, Jan 15 2008, Arizona, Posts 1577
Actually Sam, I don't use MiR so my suggestion about stereo widening was meant using power panning and reverb panning.


As for clicks in woodwinds, I really don't hear them too much but if you have VI PRO try experimenting with the start offset feature. There is a video showing you how to do that. I know it works great for reducing the pick noise in the overdrive guitar.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it."
- W.C. Fields
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